Trees play a critical role in many aspects of our environment but they are especially important to wildlife attracting many different species to them. At Homelands we have a few mature willows in our garden - they provide food for many different types of insects which then attract birds, mammals and amphibians too who will feed on the insects. Willows are also important for providing shelter and a place for birds and some small mammals to build nests in. If willows have been pollarded they develop their characteristic but unnatural shape we all know – a thick stem, a knot, and lots of small branches sprouting from the knot. Pollarding is the process to cut off the branches at approx 6 feet high every few years.
To attract wildlife to our trees we have to do some pruning. We try to keep hold of any dead wood or twigs as they play a vital role in creating a wildlife habitat for invertebrates and amphibians. Certain lichens, mosses and fungi also rely on wood which is decaying too. Instead of getting rid of any logs, we build several small piles out of it which will attract insects. Even a dead tree stump can be a home to many insects, small mammals and even a woodpecker! The logs can also be used in a shady place to create a habitat which could include ferns, primroses and other shade-loving plants which, in turn, will attract even more wildlife.
As you can see from the picture one our willows offers plenty of opportunities for birds to nest – in fact it may even attract barn owls, if they prefer an ‘old’ and natural home above our new owl box!
We have recently planted some 14 new little willows in the boggy area of our garden – at least 6 appear to have rooted well and are now showing plenty of new growth. To start new willow simply cut off a branch and push it deep into the ground!